A More Scientific Aproach To Comics

banner1.pngWhile not exactly a historical website The Periodic Table of Comic Books is an interesting web resource which has historical value. Designed by a chemists at the University of Kentucky The Periodic Table of Comic Books allows visitors to see how elements have been used and in some cases abused by American comic books.

Be forewarned, the website is not attractive. There are a few typos and the repeating background is quite atrocious, but still I think the idea is ingenious!

The site offers the viewer an image of the periodic table of elements. When you click on any element you jump to a page offering small multiples of images excerpted from pages of comics that mention that element. The resource immediately suggests new avenues for thinking about the popular perceptions of the history of science.


When you look at the small multiples it is clear that these chemists get comics in a way that the Library and Archives of Canada does not. Instead of offering tiny images of full pages from the comics viewers are given little piece of the action in the thumbnails. The bibliographic information is still present but the presentation respects the artifact being presented.

For whatever reason the site does not appear to have a database back-end. Instead each page for each comic seems to have been individually added to the collection. While taking advantage of the non-hierarchical basis of the web page format the site does not take what would seem to be the natural next step and run the site from a database of comics and elements. I would hazard to guess that this is due to lineage issues. It is entirely possible that the site has retained its initial structure from 1996.

Old Media New in New Media Skins:

As an oft compelling blog notes, Comic Books are Interesting Except When They are Not Interesting, and there is no shortage of both interesting and uninteresting sites presenting the history of comics on the web. For my review I will be discussing two different approaches to presenting comics and their history. The first site, Beyond the Funnies: The History of Comics in English Canada and Quebec “explores the history of the graphic-narrative medium in Canada”. You can see a image of the home-page below.

beyond-the-funnies.pngThe site presents a engaging attempt to use the style of comics to present the history of comics. However it ends up looking a bit too busy for my taste. When you look at the header it is just too busy. What do you think the viewer is supposed to focus on? For me the three outlined pieces of text at the top of the header image are just too much. “About This Site” “Comics Gallery” and “Create Your Own Comic” just don’t fit into the style of the head image, I would like to see them either better integrated into the image or pulled out with the five text links at the top of the page.

On the side of the page, the site navigation through speech balloons works much better for me. Here we an see them repurposing the style of comics into the format of their page. I found myself immediately understanding both the reference and that these were links to navigate through the site and that makes for good design.page_text.png

When you click the “Introduction” link from the header, the link I felt most clearly denoted where I should start moving through the site, (It is the big bright and pushed to the top left of the screen) I could clearly see the site take on another traditional form, the historical paper. You can see the title, the page is dominated by text, leaving very small images, and footnotes hyperlinked to the bibliography at the bottom of each page. While I understand that there is quite a bit of value in publishing books online, it would seem that if a project, like this one, is “born digital” it would make a lot of sense to lose the trappings of the academic paper and embrace links, and in the case of the history of comics bigger images.

comics_gallery.pngThe site does offer a comics gallery, where viewers can engage with the books themselves more. But the page is de-emphasized, one of those small links that seems out of place at the top of the header. And even still when we get to 10 comics they offer us the images are still tiny. Completely overshadowed by their bibliographic information.

Instead of embracing the possibilities of the database structure of new media, by say offering visitors to search through comics the site models itself on a academic paper (understandably there is a rats nest of rights issues here but imagine a comic books site modeled off something like BYU’s Time Archive for comics) What do we gain from this being on the web as opposed to published in paper? As I see it not too much.

While the site is interesting, and believe me much more well organized and useful than a series of other amateur sites on the history of comics it is ultimately old media in a new skin, somewhat missing the point for the possibilities of the new medium. Nonetheless a solid attempt from 2002 and of-course we must thank them for not using Comic Sans in the main body.

History Through Children's Literature

sothatsmanborder.jpgThe stories we tell children are also very telling about our history. This blog will present brief examples of these telling moments. Points for consideration of history in children’s literature and facilitate discussion of the issues therein. Children’s books are a very visual medium, but sadly it is overly complicated to get pictures into print publications. Blogs work well for talking about other visual medium, like comics, so why not Children’s Literature.

Two years ago I took Marjee‘s advice to explore the history of children’s books about Marie Curie and Albert Einstein. In the process I came across a whole host of materials of historical interest that just didn’t fit into the project but nonetheless warranted discussion. Inspired by some of my colleagues at the Center for History and New Media‘s blogs I have been looking for a approach and topic for blogging and Marjee and I have been looking for projects to collaborate on. The blog will explore history in children’s books, from that perspective it will focus much more on ‘true stories’ (non-fiction) than on works of fiction. Our particular interest in the history of science will most likely translate into us spending more time on history of science topics. In particular you can expect to see a bit more of Curie and Einstein to begin with.

A bit about us. My name is Trevor Owens, I work as the Technology Evangelist for the Zotero project at the Center for History and New Media. Aside from that I am a graduate student studying American history at George Mason University. I graduated from the University of Wisconsin with a BA in History and the History of Science. My undergraduate thesis explored how children’s books about Albert Einstein and Marie Curie diverged from more authoritative biographies. My other work has focused on the history of school science fairs, children’s books about evolution, and creation/evolution discourse in online communities.

Marjee, works as a Associate Director for PBS TeacherLine, developing, directing, and facilitating professional development for teachers across the United States. Marjee taught high school physics and chemistry, and has studied the history of science education and educational technology. She has previously explored Sputnik’s impact on American science education, online creation science communities, and her work on scientific reasoning in video games has been cited in Science.

Our first experiences with history are crucial, while many of those experiences are impossible to capture children’s books provide a record of many of our first impressions of history. On some level these books represent our first past. Children’s books that make historical assertions and this blog is a attempt to start unraveling those assertions. To start taking a serious look at historical children’s literature. The study of Children’s Literature is in many ways in its infancy, and the study of its history even more so. The short pieces in this blog are intended as a way to help develop a dialog about these books.

Oh, and our views are our own, and in no way reflect the views of our respective organizations etc.
(image from Russell Ray Baker. So That’s Man!. Chicago: Reilly & Lee, 1949.)